Courtesy of Georgie

It starts with the sauce.

Andy Wang
October 11, 2017

There's a lot of classic French technique behind the scenes at Georgie, Geoffrey Zakarian's modern American restaurant inside the Montage Beverly Hills hotel.

New executive chef Wilfrid Hocquet, who grew up in the South of France before working under Alain Ducasse for eight years all over France and then being recruited by Daniel Boulud to cook at Daniel in New York, knows his way around Michelin-starred kitchens. He says he's "very particular" about putting in the proper time to make "refined sauces." So for his oxtail cavatelli, he uses a recipe from Nice and cooks down the oxtail for two days. The oxtail pasta also features Niçoise olives and confit orange zest.

"I don't want to do totally French cuisine," Hocquet says. "I'm working with very seasonal ingredients in L.A.. You have all this good produce here. I try to use these ingredients and also use the same technique you see in the Michelin-starred restaurants."

L.A. has no Michelin Guide, of course, and Hocquet sees some advantages to this, especially for customers. Restaurants in L.A. tend to be more accessible than those in New York and San Francisco. Restaurants in L.A. are often simultaneously less expensive and more comforting, even when the food is every bit as serious as a Michelin-starred restaurant in another city.

Hocquet, for example, makes a showstopping pâté en croûte. The key, he says, is pre-cooking the dough to make sure it's properly crispy.

"You can have many variations on the stuffing, but you need the technique," Hocquet says. "It took me three months to train my chef de cuisine to make it perfectly. This is something you can't see everywhere."

Hocquet recently added a tasting menu featuring dishes like a resplendent beet risotto; steamed maigre (a popular fish in France that's hard to find in America) with artichokes, zucchini and saffron sauce; and smoked beef cheeks with polenta, crispy cornbread and beer jus. He plans to add some wild game to the menu, maybe a venison dish that will involve marinating bones in red wine for a few days. He loves poaching fish, whether it's monkfish (served with sunchoke bonbons and chanterelles) or Dover sole (served with scallop mousseline).

Grand French-inspired food isn't the easiest thing to find in Los Angeles, but Georgie and a couple other Beverly Hills hotel restaurants are doing their best to create an L.A.-friendly version of it.

At Avec Nous inside the Viceroy L'Ermitage, you can feast on escargot and steak frites after an heirloom tomato salad or some tomato bisque. Chef Olivier Quignon, who previously ran the kitchen at Bar Boulud in New York, opened this restaurant last year. He's since departed, but Avec Nous still feels like a glamorous brasserie, whether you're craving oysters, champagne and a cheese plate, or just want to come in for a Niçoise salad.

And, of course, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills recently opened at the new Waldorf Astoria. This is world-beating chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's first L.A. restaurant, and it's serving his famous eggs caviar along with black truffle pizzas, dungeness crab crostinis and broccoli-and-kale salads. In other words, he's making French-American food nicely calibrated for Los Angeles in 2017.

The way Hocquet sees it, what's happening in L.A. resembles what's been happening in France. Chefs with multiple Michelin stars have opened more casual bistros, but continue to use the same high-end ingredients and technique.

"In Paris, you can see this trend," he says. "In L.A., it's very sunny and you can make rustic food."

One thing Hocquet learned from Ducasse is that cooking what seems like simple food can be the most difficult thing in the kitchen.

"There's no hiding any errors," Hocquet says. "If the vegetable is not cooked perfectly or the sauce is no good or the meat or fish isn't right, there's no place to hide."

And in L.A., precision and consistency matter a lot, Hocquet adds, because your goal as a chef is to create food that will bring customers back again and again. This isn't about serving one of those Michelin-starred tasting menus that guests might enjoy only once in their lifetime. This isn't about modernist cuisine. This isn't about being avant-garde.

"The essence of the restaurant is to make people happy," Hocquet says of Georgie. "The more comfort you offer them, the more they appreciate what you do."

For Hocquet, like so many other talented French chefs, that comfort is often about the transformative power of slow cooking. And everything starts with the sauce. Sometimes, the sauce involves saffron. Other times, it involves beer. What it always involves is classic technique.

Georgie, 225 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-860-7970